Staying Within Proper Theological Boundaries: Important Words

This post is an extension of Staying Within Proper Theological Boundaries. Here we look at the color-coded words plus “Almighty” in the 381 Nicene Creed.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty [pantokratōr], Maker [poitēs] of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

And (we believe) in one Lord Jesus Christ—the sole-kin/kind [monogenēs] Son of God, begotten [gennaō] of the Father before all ages [aiōn], Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten [gennaō] not made [poieō], coessential [homo-ousia] with the Father—through whom all things came to be; Who, for us men [anthrōpos] and for our salvation, descended from heaven—enfleshed by the Holy Spirit, and of the virgin Mary—and became man [en-anthrōpos] . . .

Comparing Paired Words

Following are the color-coded terms from the Creed and reasons for their highlighting here.

God, the Father is the ultimate “Maker” (Poitēs) of all things, while the Son is the agent through Whom all things came to be. Accordingly, the Son is not “made” (poieō) but “begotten” (gennaō) instead, which means He is not a creature.

The Son is also “begotten” (gennaō) of the Father before all “ages” (aiōn), meaning ‘pre-time’. It is difficult to speak of ‘a time before time’ without using some sort of temporal category (before all ages); but the implication here is the Son was “begotten” in the eternal realm, as opposed to the temporal realm, thereby establishing His eternality. In other words, since time and space are an integral part of creation—and we have established the Son is “not made”—speaking in terms of Him ‘predating’ all “ages” is to express that an intrinsic trait of the Son is eternality.

The use of “before all ages” with “begotten” serves as a means by which to describe what is implied of the Word (ho Logos) in John 1:1–2: In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning the Word [‘already’] was. Stated more succinctly, ‘Before’ the creation event, the Son ‘alreadywas with God.

The Son of God became man (en-anthrōpos) when He was “enfleshed” (“became flesh”—John 1:14) “for us men (anthrōpos) and for our salvation”. The Son of God willingly condescended to take the form of man in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to become a sacrifice for us—a Divine mystery for the sake of humanity.

Who is ‘Almighty’?

God is “Almighty”. Jesus is God (the God-man). But can we say Jesus is “Almighty”?

The use of “Almighty” (Pantokratōr) in the very beginning of the Creed prompts this question.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty [pantokratōr], Maker [poitēs] of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

This word “Almighty” is specifically applied to God the Father, but not to the Son. So, would it be proper to ascribe this same title to Jesus?

Pantokratōr (“Almighty”) is only found ten times in the New Testament. Nine occur in Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). The remaining one is in 2Cor 6:18, where it is sourced from the Old Testament (“LORD [YHWH], Almighty”). In Revelation most all instances are in the form “Lord God, Almighty”, except two as “God, Almighty” (16:14; 19:15) and one as “Lord God . . . Almighty” (1:8). This latter one is of special interest here. In the ellipsis is the same verbiage as Revelation 1:4: the One Who is, Who was, and Who is coming, which denotes a Divine Title (or Name)1 and is clearly a reference to God the Father in this context.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “Who is, Who was, and Who is to come, the Almighty.”2

Moreover, the next occurrence of “Almighty” (4:8) also contains this same Divine Title (Name). Therefore, it would appear that the referent in 1:8 is also God the Father. This seems especially so given that the remaining instances of “Almighty” in Revelation all refer to the Father. And if we accept the implications of the language in in the 381 Nicene Creed (“one God, the Father Almighty”), then we should definitively conclude that 1:8 be understood as words of God the Father.

Yet in many ‘Red Letter’ Bible versions, these words are attributed to Jesus. These include: Amplified Bible, BRG Bible, 1599 Geneva Bible, International Children’s Bible, International Standard Version, Legacy Standard Bible, Modern English Version, New American Standard Bible, New American Standard Bible 1995, New Century Version, New International Version 1984, New King James Version, New Life Version, and the World English Bible.3 I contend these versions are in error, unless some strong evidence can be adduced to support such an interpretation.

Now, we must note that contained in Revelation 1:8 is the Title “the Alpha and the Omega” (cf. 21:6), which Jesus applies to Himself in 22:13. Moreover, Jesus also applies “the Beginning and the End” to Himself in 22:13, and this same Title is used by “the One Who sits on the Throne” (God the Father) in 21:6. In other words, there is quite a bit of overlap in the Titles of the Book of Revelation.

But then again, the Title (Name) the One Who is, Who was, and Who is coming is only ever applied to the Father.

Yet perhaps I’m missing a more solid connection to support attributing the words of Revelation 1:8 to Jesus? Thoughts or challenges?

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1 See Not Declining the Divine Name?

2 It is possible the quotation ends just before says the Lord God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, the One Who is, Who was, and Who is to come, the Almighty. But this has no bearing on the issue at hand.

3 These are all found on BibleGateway, except the New International Version 1984, which I have a printed copy of. Following are among those Red Letter versions which do not use red lettering for Revelation 1:8: Christian Standard Bible, Common English Bible, English Standard Version, English Standard Version UK, Holman Christian Standard Bible, The Living Bible, New International Version, New International Version UK, and New Living Translation.

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One Composer’s Conception of Time

“I saw a mighty angel descending from heaven, clad in a cloud, having a rainbow upon his head. His face was like the sun, his feet like pillars of fire. He placed his right foot on the sea, his left foot on the land; and, supporting himself on the sea and the land, he raised his hand heavenward and swore by the One Who lives forever and ever, saying: ‘There shall be no more time, but in the day of the trumpet of the seventh angel the mystery of God shall be consummated.’”

– Apocalypse of St. John, 10:1–2, 5–71

So begins Olivier Messiaen’s preface to his Quartet for the End of Time (Quatuor pour las Fin du Temps). We might call it the prologue or the prelude to his preface, for this excerpt from Revelation (aka Apocalypse of Jesus Christ) provides the sole inspiration for the entire piece.

The quartet here is unusual in that it is not the typical string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello), instead consisting of piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. Messiaen finished composing this chamber music work while imprisoned during World War II. A sympathetic guard provided the needed materials for the captive composer. Quartet for the End of Time premiered in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany (modern day Zgorzelec, Poland).

In his preface he describes how the composition’s “musical language” evokes time, timelessness, and eternity:

Certain modes, realizing melodically and harmonically a kind of tonal ubiquity, draw the listener into a sense of the eternity of space or infinity. Particular rhythms existing outside the measure contribute importantly toward the banishment of temporalities. (All this remains mere striving and stammering if one ponders upon the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!)2

By “[p]articular rhythms existing outside the measure” the composer means irregular rhythms; in some sections the number of beats per bar (measure) varies. In the first movement, for example, one instrument is assigned notes/chords to be played at specific intervals, while another is given different notes to be played at different intervals.3 Such intermixing represents “the banishment of temporalities”.4 These musical effects express time nearing its end, after which it will segue into eternity, according to the composer.

The composition consists of eight movements, two of which center on Christ. The first of these, the much-lauded fifth movement, is titled “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus”. The composer explains:

Jesus is here considered as one with the Word [Logos]. A long phrase, infinitely slow, by the cello magnifies with love and reverence on the eternality of the powerful and gentle Word, “whose years will never cease.” Majestically, the melody unfolds at a sort of distance, both tender and supreme: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As I understand the composer, he appears to recognize that the earthly Jesus (the Word become flesh) preexisted as the Word. That is, there is continuity in the ‘Person’ of “the Word” and the Person of Jesus Christ. At the same time, then, he seems to correctly recognize that Jesus is coextensive with the Word only at the point of the Incarnation. Before that point in time the Word was not with flesh, and the Word was simply “the Word”.

Thus, while the Word eternally exists, Jesus has a beginning in time—at the instant of Incarnation, at the Conception of the Virginal Birth. In other words, though the Word exists eternally, the Word began a new mode of existence at the Incarnation—as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ—which did not alter His eternality. Stated another way, the Word has unbounded eternality; comparatively, Jesus Christ has bounded eternality—bounded at the moment of the Virginal Conception, when the Word took human nature unto Himself (see An Eternal Christological Conundrum).

The second movement exalting Jesus Christ is the final (eighth) one: “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus.”

Expansive violin solo as counterpart to the cello solo of the fifth movement. Why this second eulogy? It addresses itself more specifically to the second aspect of Jesus—to Jesus the man, to the Word made flesh, resurrected immortal in order to share His life with us. It is total love. Its slow ascent towards the highest pitch is the ascension of man towards his God, of the child of God towards his Father, of the divinized creature towards paradise.

In keeping with his Roman Catholic faith, it seems likely the composer has in mind Athanasius, whose words were revised a bit to become the pithy aphorism “God became man so that man could become God”. That Messiaen understood this not as a full-on capital ‘D’ Deification seems evident in the last sentence above, especially the French créature divinisée. This retains the Creator-creature distinction, for a creature cannot truly become “Divinized”—capital ‘D’. The created cannot become just like the Creator. That would be oxymoronic. We are ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ (2Peter 1:4), not wholly Deity, God.5

Coming full circle, one last aspect of Messiaen’s preface commands our attention: his translation/interpretation of time in the prologue/prelude. A quick search of various English translations finds quite a variety in Revelation 10:6. Of this, the composer states:

“There are people who understand [the Biblical passage as] ‘there will be no more delay.’ That’s not it. [Instead it is] ‘there will be no more Time’ with a capital ‘T’; that is to say, there will be no more space, there will be no more time. One leaves the human dimension with cycles and destiny to rejoin eternity. So, I finally wrote this quartet dedicating it to this angel who declared the end of Time.”6

His is an interesting interpretation. As for the translation, Messiaen is technically correct. Let’s look at the Greek (transliterated):

Hoti chronos ouketi estai
That time no-longer will-be
That time will be no longer
That time will no longer be
That there will be time no longer
That there will be no more time

The first Greek word, hoti, can be understood as “that”, followed by a statement, in narrative form, of what someone had said. Or it can be construed as the beginning of a quotation, as Messiaen construes it, along with a few English translations. Messiaen goes a bit further, though, by prefacing this statement by the angel with “saying” (French: disant), which is not in the Greek. The composer also capitalizes “Time” (French: Temps).

Those versions that render this either as a quotation of the angel as “There will be no more delay” or the narrator’s reporting of what the angel had said as that there will be no more delay are making interpretive decisions based on the larger context. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to go into more detail, but the reader is free to make any comment on this.

The composer follows the words accompanying movement VIII—and thus concludes his preface—with the same words he had used parenthetically earlier in the preface, this time without the parentheses: All this remains mere striving and stammering if one ponders upon the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!

In sum, Messiaen offers an intriguing take on the Revelation 10 passage, which then functions as a basis for his unique conception of time musically, as realized in his chamber music piece Quatuor pour las Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time). That this piece was conceived and completed while a WWII captive makes it perhaps all the more intriguing.

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1 As translated from Olivier Messiaen’s French, with the assistance of various online helps.

2 Again, as translated from Messiaen’s French, though comparing with the English translation in the CD  liner notes of RCA Victor Gold Seal (reissue of original 1976 RCA Red Seal), MESSIAEN Quatuor pour la Fin de Temps, Tashi (Peter Serkin, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry, Richard Stoltzman), 7835-2-RG, BMG Classics, © 1988 BMG Music. The translation in the above text above differs, e.g., in “the eternity of space or infinity” as compared to liner notes’ “the eternity of space or time” (the French is infini), and in “if one ponders upon” as compared to “if one compares it to” (French is songe à). The rest of the translations follow similar methodology.

3 See Lawrence University’s Gene Biringer’s “Analysis” tab here: I. Liturgie de cristal. Also, under the “Musical Elements” tab the author writes: [Heterophonic texture] can also describe certain polyphonic textures, like that of the first movement of Messiaen’s Quartet, in which there is no discernable relationship among some of the parts . . .  the violin and clarinet parts, which are meant to evoke birdsong, are so independent of the cello part and, especially, the homophonic piano part that they seem to occupy a wholly different sonic world . . . here four characters are speaking simultaneously, unresponsive and perhaps even oblivious to the others. Instead of a harmonious counterpoint between independent but related melodies, we hear a juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas – a true heterophony.

4 For further—and better—explanation, see Peter Gutmann’s Classical Notes site, particularly here.

5 See Roman Catholic Catechism 460.

6 As quoted from the Lawrence University site (see Biblical Source tab) as found in Rebecca Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet (New York, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), p 51.

Not Declining the Divine Name?

John writes some strange things in Revelation, aka The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. An angel fills a golden censer with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth. And there’s an angel standing in the sun, crying with a loud voice to birds flying mid-heaven, “Come and gather together for the great supper of God.”

More mundane perhaps is the case below. It appears John does not decline the Divine Name. Now why would that be strange?

The One Who Is

Before proceeding directly, some necessary background must be provided. The applicable verbiage in Revelation 1:4, our subject verse, comes not from the Hebrew but the Greek of Exodus 3:14.1 This portion of the Greek ‘Old Testament’ was translated from the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) by Jews in the middle of the 3rd century BC.2 Exodus 3:13 is included, in order to provide necessary context:

3:13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold: I shall go to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you.’ They shall ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM THE ONE WHO IS [EGŌ EIMI HO ŌN].” Then He said, “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] has sent me to you.’”3

Moses is concerned that telling the Israelites “The God of our fathers has sent me to you” will be deficient. They may also want to know His Name. In response, God first provides what appears to be His Name:4I AM THE ONE WHO IS.” The pertinent portion is THE ONE WHO IS, for this forms part of God’s directive to Moses when He speaks again:  “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] has sent me to you.’”

It will prove beneficial to examine the (transliterated) Greek. We will begin with an overly literal word-for-word translation, and then proceed until we reach a more suitable rendering at the bottom. In the first part of verse 14 is God’s initial reply to Moses:

EGŌ EIMI HO ŌN
I I-am the being/existing5
I am the existing (one)
I am the-one existing
I am He-who exists/is
I am He Who Is
I am The One Who Is

EGŌ is simply the first person singular pronoun “I”. The second word, EIMI, is the first person singular finite verb “be” (“I-am”). Since person and number are encoded in all Greek finite verbs, each one has a built-in subject. In this instance, it is the first person singular “I”. Therefore, strictly speaking, the pronoun “I” (EGŌ) is not necessary and likely implies emphasis. So, the initial part of God’s response should be understood as the emphatic “I AM”.

The third word, HO, is the Greek article.6 It can be crudely translated simply “the”. In our context, the article functions to substantivize the participle following it. In other words, the Greek article + participle here form a noun, a nominative.

To further explain, a Greek participle is a non-finite verb, which means it can never be a complete sentence unto itself.7 Participles can function either as adverbs (modifying a verb) or adjectives (modifying a noun). When the article precedes it, as it does here (the article HO + participle ŌN), the participle is functioning as an adjective. And when the combination of article + participle stands alone,8 it is a substantival, taking the place of a noun. HO ŌN is in the nominative case, functioning here as the predicate nominative. ŌN is the masculine singular present participle of “be” (=“being”, “existing”, “is”), and taken together with the article yields: THE ONE WHO IS.

A Greek article also encodes grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter), matching that of its associated part of speech—in this case the participle. Hence, they are both masculine. Therefore, a valid translation is HE WHO IS. For our purposes, we will use THE ONE WHO IS.9

Thus, we translate the above I AM THE ONE WHO IS. The predicate nominative of this proclamation then becomes the subject nominative in God’s instructions to Moses to tell the sons of Israel: ‘THE ONE WHO IS has sent me to you.’

With this background provided, we shall proceed to the applicable portion of Revelation 1:4:

1:4 John to the seven ekklēsiais in Asia: Grace to you, and peace from [apo] THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN], THE ONE WHO WAS [HO ĒN], and THE ONE WHO IS COMING [HO ERCHOMENOS]…

John the Revelator is using poor Greek grammar! In the first instance [HO ŌN], it appears John does not decline the Divine Name. To be more specific, in the prepositional phrase (PP) beginning with apo (“from”), THE ONE WHO IS should be grammatically declined to the genitive case [TOU ONTOS], not remain in the nominative case [HO ŌN]. R. H. Charles explains John’s apparent rationale:

We have here a title of God conceived in the terms of time. The Seer [John] has deliberately violated the rules of grammar in order to preserve the divine name inviolate from the change which it would necessarily have undergone if declined. Hence the divine name is here in the nominative [case].10

Mathewson provides further comment:

This PP [prepositional phrase] is one of the first clear examples of John’s numerous solecisms. Here the preposition apo is followed by the nominative case (ho) rather than the expected genitive (tou). There is broad agreement that the grammatical incongruity is intentional . . . The most likely explanation is that by grammatical incongruity the author wishes to draw attention to the titular nature of this expression and the OT text from which it comes: Exod 3:14.11

Of the three elements, the first [HO ŌN] and third [HO ERCHOMENOS] follow the same pattern. Each uses the nominative case in the form of the substantival Greek article + participle after their common preposition apo (“from”). So, both seem to follow the same logic and purpose, if grammatically odd.

The second element, however, is grammatically worse than the other two! It is not ‘merely’ a nominative where it should be in the genitive case. It is in the incongruous form of Greek article + finite verb. Recall that a finite verb encodes person and number; so, each has a built-in subject, and each can form a complete sentence. Thus, if we were to translate the second element word-for-word, it would be the nonsensical THE ONE WHO HE WAS, HE WHO HE WAS, THE HE WAS, or THE WAS. In other words, even when standing on its own—outside the apo (“from”) PP—this construction (article + finite verb) is nonsensical.

Yet this can be explained somewhat. The verb “be” in Greek (EIMI) lacks a past participle, and so the finite verb ĒN (WAS) is substituted as the closest compromise. The purpose of the article preceding it—though absolutely wrong grammatically—is to retain parallelism with the other elements in this PP to the extent possible.12

But one might contend (this writer would) that THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] by itself sufficiently connotes eternality; that is, if God simply IS, then this implies He has no beginning and no end.13 Swete observes that “the [Jewish] Targums read into the words [the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14] a reference to the infinite past and future of God’s eternal ‘now’”.14 

In his Prepositions and Theology, Murray J. Harris refers to this text of Rev 1:4.15 After providing various explanations for the grammatical anomalies, he concludes, “The easiest and most common explanation is that this threefold title of Yahweh is an indeclinable noun that by its very form effectively highlights the unchangeable and eternal character of God.”16

Divine Name or Title?

The careful reader may have observed that HO ŌN is sometimes referred to as the Divine Name and other times as a title or part of a longer title, depending on the source. The larger context of Exodus 3 may provide clarity on this. Following is the same selection above but with the next two verses included:

3: 13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold: I shall go to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you.’ They shall ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM THE ONE WHO IS.” Then He said, “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS has sent me to you.’” 15 Then God spoke again to Moses, “So, say this to the sons of Israel: ‘The LORD [Hebrew: YHWH], the God of your fathers—God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever and how I am to be remembered from generation to generation.16 Now go and gather together the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD [YHWH], the God of your fathers, appeared to me—God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob…’ ”

Observe that God specifically states His Name as “The LORD [YHWH]” in verse 15. The Greek ‘OT’ consistently translates the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) as KYRIOS. English versions usually render this the all caps LORD. The portion following His Name, “the God of your fathers”, should probably be understood such that it further describes/defines “The LORD [YHWH]”.

So what do we make of THE ONE WHO IS? Is it to be understood as yet another Name? A Title?

Prior to the transcription of the Targums, a section of the Jewish pseudepigraphic work Sibylline Oracles dated ca. 2nd century BC–20 BC17 describes God as existing eternally, by using present participles of “be” [accusative forms]:

3:15 But He, Himself eternal, has revealed Himself 16 as One Who Is/Exists [ONTA], and so even heretofore exists [prin EONTA], and yet even still hereafter.18

The way this is phrased, it seems that the first part of the sentence (“But He, Himself eternal, has revealed Himself as One Who Is/Exists”) is intended to state God’s eternality, while the rest of the phrase further describes it. He exists, meaning He has existed at all times past up to and including the present, and will continue to exist into the future. And this selection provides a clue to further define John’s likely intention.

There are contemporaneous secular works describing ‘gods’ as existing eternally. But they use Greek finite verbs instead of participles. “Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be” (Pausanias, Greciae descriptio, 10.12.10).19 Also, “Aion, the god of time, ‘is and was and will be’”.20

Comparatively, Aune notes, “The title [HO ŌN] was known to Jews in Asia Minor as attested by an inscription on an altar from Pergamon that reads THEOS KYRIOS HO ŌN EIS AEI.21 This could be rendered: “God, the LORD, the One who exists/is forever.”

Taken altogether, it is the opinion of this writer that the phrase I AM THE ONE WHO IS in Exodus 3:14 is God’s declaration of His eternal existence—His proclamation of His Divine attribute of eternality. Assuming so, THE ONE WHO IS, then, was used as a Divine Title, not a Divine Name. It seems possible it reflects (part of) a self-description inherent in His Divine Name YHWH, the Tetragrammaton.

Therefore, assuming the above, in apparent reverence, John the Revelator kept this Divine Title HO ŌN intact, instead of subjecting it to the usual grammatical declining. But what about the rest of John’s phrase?

Note that John’s full expression does not follow the pattern in any of the others above. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the third element, which does not reflect ‘infinite future’ but rather God’s coming (HO ERCHOMENOS) at the culmination of salvation-history—the eschaton, the end of all things from our earthly perspective.22 This fact more foundationally supports the position that HO ŌN by itself sufficiently expresses eternality.

Less clear is the time referent, temporal or eternal, for the grammatically incongruous second element (HO ĒN) in the three part phrase. It could be a corollary to “the beginning/originator of God’s creation” (HĒ ARCHĒ TĒ KTISEŌS TOU THEOU) in Revelation 3:14.23 If so, the second and third elements would reflect the entirety of salvation-history, from beginning to end.

If all this holds, John’s expression would reflect God’s intrinsic Self-existence in the Divine Title in the first element, while the second and third elements together would represent the termination points of salvation-history. Stated differently, the first element in this triadic Title reflects God’s eternality, the second and third reflect the beginning and ending, respectively, of God’s direct interaction with humankind in the earthly realm–in temporality.

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1 The Hebrew of the first words of God in Exodus 3:14 is usually rendered I AM THAT I AM.

2 The Greek ‘OT’ is part of the larger Septuagint (LXX), which includes a body of works known as the Apocrypha, aka Deuterocanon (“second canon”) in some traditions.

3 We must also take note that in the next verse God continues the same line of thought, this time by explicitly explaining and stating His Name; however,  John the Revelator does not reference this portion directly. More on this below.

4 Or perhaps this is God’s way of proclaiming an ontological attribute, one exclusive to Him: His eternality. The LORD God simply IS. See note 13.

5 “I am THE BEING” is Brenton’s translation.

6 While English has both a definite article (the) and an indefinite article (a), Greek has only one article. 

7 This is in distinction from finite verbs (see EIMI above), which can and do sometimes form complete sentences unto themselves, since both person and number are appended morphologically. A great example is Jesus’ final word on the Cross in John 19:30: Tetelestai. It is a 3rd person singular perfect tense-form verb, in the middle voice, and in the indicative mood. It is best translated “It is finished”, or, perhaps better, “It has been finished.”

8 A Greek article + participle can also function as an attributive adjective, if it is modifying a noun, thus further describing that noun.

9 Masculine gender here is to correlate with THEOS, GOD, which is also masculine in grammatical gender. While HE WHO IS works, it is subject to possible misinterpretation in English—that God is male in a biological sense.

10 R.H. Charles, Revelation of John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), para 41640. Charles adds: “It could have been preserved in classical Greek, i.e. apo tou ho ōn. But our author shows no knowledge of this construction” (para 41640; Greek transliterated, bold added for emphasis). Yet the Textus Receptus (the Greek text underlying the KJV) inserts tou here (see this site, e.g.); but, take notice of Charles’ comment that John “shows no knowledge of this construction”. The language/dialect of Classical Greek, from which tou would emanate in this instance, ended about 400 years before the Koine Greek of the NT era. As far as I can determine, the Textus Receptus sources only one manuscript for Revelation here, specifically GA 2814 (12th century), and this tou appears to be a singular reading. That is, it appears to be the only extant manuscript with this reading. Yet, quite a few manuscripts (including 𝔐 [Majority Text]) insert the genitive for “God” (theou) between apo and the nominative HO ŌN, in an attempt to smooth out the grammar.

11 David L. Mathewson, Revelation: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p 4 (Greek transliterated).

12 Cf. Charles, Revelation, para 41641.

13 Craig R. Koester (Revelation, The Anchor Yale Bible [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014]) comments that the neuter form of article + EIMI present participle [TO ON] had been used to imply eternality: “Greco-Roman sources sometimes used the form to on for God as “the existent one” or as “being” (Seneca the Younger, Ep. 58.7, 17; Plutarch, Mor. 393B–C)” (p 215).  See notes 4 and 5.

14 Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of John: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices, 3rd ed. (London: MacMillan, 1917), p 5. This is in the public domain and available online here. And here the Targums understand the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 as I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE [Gr. ESOMAI HOS ESOMAI].

15 Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), pp 66–67

16 Harris, Prepositions and Theology, p 67. Cf. Swete, Apocalypse: This construction “must be explained by regarding the whole phrase as an indeclinable noun” (p 5).

17 See J. J. Collins, “Sibylline Oracles” in James H. Charlesworth, Ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1983): “[Verses 1–45] could have been composed at any time in the late Hellenistic period or early Roman periods. If we assume that they originally formed a unit with any part of 46–92, we can fix their date more precisely . . . Verses 46–62 must be dated shortly after the battle of Actium” (p 360).

18 The Greek (transliterated): all’ autos anedeixen aiōnios autos eauton onta te kai prin eonta, atar pali kai metepeita. Charles renders it: “But he, himself Eternal, hath revealed himself as One who is and was before, yea and shall be hereafter.”

19 The Greek here is Zeus ēn, Zeus estin, Zeus essetai (Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεὺς ἔστιν, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται).

20 Koester, Revelation, p 215.

21 David Aune, Revelation: Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary 52A (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997) p 30, (Greek transliterated).

22 Charles, Revelation, opines that the present participle of erchomai [“is coming”] is used here instead of the future form, “with a definite reference to the contents of the Book and especially to the coming of Christ, 1:7; 2:5, 16; 3:2; 22:7, 12, etc., in whose coming God Himself comes also [ED: in 1:8, e.g.]” (para 41641).

23 Note the first words of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning (ARCHĒ) was (ĒN) the Word”.

__________________________

Similarly themed posts:

An Eternal Christological Conundrum

Looking Past the Future

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

Being Blessed

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).

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8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”

[See Part II]

In Scripture, as in all literature, a word takes on meaning only in its specific context. But sometimes the immediate context (sentence, paragraph) does not shed enough light to provide precise meaning. In such instances, broadening the scope by viewing the entire Biblical book, or the New Testament (NT) as a whole, may further illuminate. However, there are cases which require a more panoramic lens. The untranslated pharmakeia in the title to this article provides such an example.1

As the reader can readily perceive, the modern words pharmacy, pharmacist, pharmaceutical, and pharmacology are derived from this Greek word. But it would be wrong to automatically (and anachronistically) impose modern definitions upon the NT era.

This article’s title is taken from the final clause in Revelation 18:23. The noun pharmakeia and its related noun forms occur only five times in the entire NT. Four are in Revelation (Apocalypse of Jesus Christ).2 The remaining instance finds itself in Paul’s description of living by the flesh (as opposed to the Spirit) in Galatians:

5:19 Now the works [ergon] of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, pharmakeia, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

In this context, pharmakeia clearly carries a negative connotation.  English versions translate it either “sorcery” (ESV, NASB, NET, HCSB, ERV) or “witchcraft” (KJV, NIV, ISV, YLT). But what do these English words mean exactly?

F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament will assist here.3 As its title suggests, Danker’s concise lexicon focuses strictly on the NT. Following are the relevant words (transliterated), with corresponding Scripture references:4

pharmakeia: [{from} pharmakeus ‘specialist in mixing drugs/potions’] ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic Gal 5:20; Rv 9:21 [variant]; 18:23.

pharmakon: ‘a mixture of various items designed to manipulate’, magic potion, charm Rv 9:21.

pharmakos: [= pharmakeus see pharmakeia] ‘an expert in manipulation through occult means’, sorcerer, magician Rv 21:8; 22:15.

So, from the above definitions we see what these nouns pertain to: pharmakos is the person who manipulates, pharmakon is the method or mixture of methods used for manipulation, and pharmakeia is the word used for this type of manipulation. Thus, the practice of pharmakeia (manipulation) is performed by a pharmakos (manipulator), who uses a pharmakon (manipulating method or mixture) for such manipulative purposes. This manipulation is occultic, as in sorcery or magic (witchcraft), and may or may not involve substances (drugs or potions).

The contexts in Revelation follow, in chronological order.

9:20 And the rest of humankind—those who were not been killed by these plagues—did not repent of the works [ergon] of their hands, so that they would not worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their pharmakon[pl], their sexual immorality, or their thefts.

The subscripted “pl” indicates plural (pharmakōn) instead of singular. The “they” in 9:21 refers to “the rest of humankind—those who were not killed by these plagues” (9:20). Observe in Danker’s definitions above there is the note in brackets “variant”. Some manuscripts have pharmakeia instead of pharmakon here in 9:21. In the case of the text as it stands (pharmakon), this refers to the methods or mixtures; the variant (pharmakeia), the practices of it. Whatever the case, the context does not assist in determining specific meaning.

Moving on to the next context, which contains our subject verse:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis5 be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

So Babylon misled—or will mislead—all the nations/peoples by her pharmakeia. There appears to be a causal relationship between Babylon’s pharmakeia misleading the nations and Babylon’s merchants being “the distinguished persons of the earth”. In other words, Babylon’s merchants were “distinguished persons” seemingly as a result of her pharmakeia misleading “all the nations”. The NET Bible explicitly interprets it that way: For your merchants were the tycoons of the world, because all the nations were deceived by your [pharmakeia]! Stated another way, by Babylon’s manipulative deception (pharmakeia) her merchants were “the distinguished persons of the earth” (became wealthy?).

The next occurrence is in Revelation 21:8. The larger context describes the forthcoming new heaven and new earth, the Holy City and the New Jerusalem (21:1–2). A “voice from the Throne” relates how God’s dwelling place will then be with His people (21:3–4):

21:5 Then the One sitting on the Throne said, “Take note! I make all things new.” Adding, He said, “Write, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And then He said to me, “These things6 have come to fruition! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life. 7 The one who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son7 (or daughter). 8 But to those who are cowardly and unbelieving, to the abominable, to murderers, the sexually immoral, pharmakos[pl], idolaters, and all falsifiers, their portion shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

In the above, the term (in its plural pharmakoi) occurs in a list (like 9:21), making it impossible to determine precise meaning. The final instance is also in a list and is thematically similar. As an aside, note that the immediately preceding section has “the One sitting on the Throne” as speaker, while below it is the glorified Jesus:

22:12 Behold! I am coming soon. And with Me is My rewards, to repay each one according to his own work [ergon]. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have their right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the ‘dogs’, the pharmakos[pl], the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone loving and practicing falsehood.

So, once again, the context of this term here (again in its plural form pharmakoi) is insufficient to help us determine anything more than a general idea as to its meaning.

Summarizing all the above, the context of Rev 18:23 does not provide enough illumination to resolve the question of the precise definition of pharmakeia. Disappointingly, the other occurrences of pharmakeia/kon/kos in the NT, though thematically similar (carrying negative connotations within lists), fail to shed any additional light on our subject verse.

Part II will widen the scope. This additional survey will certainly prove beneficial, illuminating. But will it be enough to solidify the meaning of pharmakeia in Revelation 18:23? More pointedly, will we be able to determine with any confidence whether or not the term implies that drugs or potions are included in its meaning here?

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1 A synchronic study would be strictly NT, though could include some extra-biblical works of the NT era. A broader approach, to include pre- and/or post-NT literature, would be a diachronic study. By necessity, we will venture a bit into diachrony here.

2 The Inscriptio, the “title” of Revelation, is Apokalypsis Iōannou, “Apocalypse of John” (with manuscript variations), but it is doubtful this was present originally. It was probably added by later copyists. The first three words of the book begin with Apokalypsis Iēsou Christou, Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. This is more likely the ‘title’ of the Book—or, better, the beginning of its longer title. According to, e.g., David Aune (Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary, 52A [Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997]): “[W]hether the author gave his work a title originally is uncertain; titles were often regarded as superfluous for works intended for oral recitation (such as Revelation [ED: see 1:3: Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear . . .]), for their ‘titles’ were inherent in the opening lines. It is therefore relatively certain that the first sentence of the book in 1:1–2 was intended by the author to function as a title” (pp 3–4). Nevertheless, for our purposes here we will retain the more common “Revelation” as the title.

3 F. W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2009). Danker is the “D” in “BDAG” (The letters correlate to the first letter in each of the last names of those involved in the project: Walter Bauer, Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich), considered the standard lexicon for NT Greek studies, namely, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2000). The late Rodney Decker wrote: “. . . [Danker’s] Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [is] a 400 page lexicon published in 2009. (A 400 page lexicon can only be called “concise” by comparison with the 1,100 pages of BDAG!) This was not an abridgment of BDAG, but a new work (though obviously dependent in many ways on the larger lexicon).”

4 All definitions are taken from Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

5 English versions typically render hē megalē polis as “the great city”, but I prefer “the megalopolis”, for this leaves room to mean either ‘one large city’ or ‘an urban region consisting of several adjoining cities and suburbs’. I think the latter makes better sense.

6 I interpret the implied subject in the 3rd person plural gegonan here to be either hoitoi hoi logoi (“these words”) or panta kaina (“all things new”).

7 This is a paraphrase of the Davidic covenant in 2Samuel 7:14: I will be his Father, and he will be My son.

“Peace and Security!”

When they are saying, “Peace and security!” then destruction overtakes them suddenly…

This article is a continuation of the previous two that were centered on 1Th 4:13­‑18 (Rapture Ready? and Escorting the King of Kings?). The beginning of the very next chapter in Paul’s first Thessalonian epistle (5:1-11) should be understood as further explanation of the Christian resurrection hope, which is to occur at the Parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 But the focus is on how the Christians at Thessalonica are to abide in the interim:2

5:1 Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers (and sisters), you have no need to be written to you. 2 For you certainly know that the Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. 3 When they are saying, “Peace and security!”3 then destruction overtakes [ephistēmi] them suddenly [aiphnidios], as in the pain during birth pangs, and they will not escape [ekpheugō].

4 But you, brothers (and sisters), are not in darkness, that the Day might surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all sons (and daughters) of light and sons (and daughters) of the D/day. We are neither of the night nor of darkness. 6 Thus, therefore, let’s not sleep as the rest, but rather let’s stay awake and remain sober. 7 For those who sleep, at night they sleep, and those who get drunk, at night they get drunk.

8 But we, being of the day, let’s remain sober, wearing faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet, 9 because God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us, so that whether awake or asleep we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore, encourage each other, and edify one another, as you are already doing.

The Apostle Paul contrasts “they”/”them” (v. 3) with his Thessalonian “brothers (and sisters)”. One group is “of darkness” and “of the night”; the other is “of light” and “of the D/day”. And while “they” are ‘sleeping’ and ‘getting drunk’, the “brothers (and sisters)” making up the ekklēsia4 of Thessalonica are encouraged to “stay awake” and “remain sober” instead.

Most likely, “they”/”them” is the same group as “those who have no hope” in 4:13. Support for this is found in Paul’s use of “the rest” (hoi loipoi) in both 4:13 (“so that you will not grieve as the restthose who have no hope”) and 5:6 (“let’s not sleep as the rest“). This is another way Paul linguistically ties 5:1–11 to 4:13–18.5

Note that, in a sense, the Apostle mixes metaphors here. He refers to those in spiritual darkness (“they”/”them”) as “those who sleep” in 5:6–7. Yet in 5:10 he returns to the meaning of “asleep” from 4:14–17, which is as a euphemism for those who died in Christ. This is yet another way to linguistically link the two passages.

In 5:1, “the times and the seasons”6 refers back to the Parousia of 4:15­‑17 in a general sense (cf. Matt 24:33). And “the Day of the Lord” in verse 2 is clearly a way of rephrasing Jesus’ Parousia. In other words, the two refer to the same event—more accurately, the same series of events. That “Day”, the day of Jesus’ return (Parousia), will come as a complete surprise to “they”/”them”. In contrast, the discerning Christian will know when that time is near.

No Surprise for the Wise

After detailing a series of events to precede His Parousia (Luke 21:7–28; cf. Matt 24:3–31), Jesus provides the example of a budding fig tree as a metaphor for discerning the nearness of His return (Luke 21:29–36; cf. Matt 24:32–51). So, to witness these events unfold is to know Jesus’ return is growing near. In the selection from Luke’s Gospel below, note the three words in brackets, which are the same Greek terms identified in 1Th 5:3 above:7

Luke 21:29 He told them a parable: “Observe the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they bud, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 Likewise also you, as you observe these things occurring, recognize that the Kingdom of God is near . . . 34 But watch yourselves lest your hearts be heavy with intoxication and drunkenness, as well as life’s worries, and that Day overtake [ephistēmi] you suddenly [aiphnidios] 35 like a trap. For it will spring upon all those dwelling on the face of the entire earth. 36 But stay watchful in every season, praying that you may have the strength to escape [ekpheugō] all these things that are going to occur, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Notice how the three bracketed terms in Luke’s context differ with their usage in 1Th 5:3. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is making a blanket appeal to His entire audience to guard against becoming heavy-hearted with worldly distractions to the extent of being unprepared when He returns (see Parable of the Ten Virgins). Such unpreparedness may result in not having the strength to stand before the Son of Man.

Comparatively, Paul is being more pastoral. He assures his Thessalonian ekklēsia that they will not be ‘overtaken’ “suddenly”—unable to “escape”—as “the rest” will be.  Using the emphatic you (and we in v. 8) to press his point, he reassures his “brothers (and sisters)” that they will remain “awake” and “sober” instead. The Apostle encourages them to encourage each other in this regard (5:11).

To be clear, Paul is not countering or amending Jesus’ words here. He accepts them as they are. Yet, for his brothers’ and sisters’ sake, he assures them that they have the capacity to hold fast to their faith and hope. And, carrying this forward to today, we are to do the same.

In 1Th 5:9 (God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtaining salvation . . .), Paul returns to a statement near the opening of his epistle (1Th 1:10): . . . to wait for God’s Son Whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, Who will deliver us from the wrath to come. This agrees with the thrust of Jesus’ statement in the verse directly preceding the above passage in Luke (21:28): But when these things begin to occur, stand and lift up your head, for your redemption is drawing near.

To borrow the pithy words of Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

The Pax Romana

What did Paul mean by, “Peace and security!”? Most likely the Apostle was referring to the ‘peace and security’ provided by the Roman Empire.8

Roman poet Ovid refers to the “peace of Augustus” (Ex Ponto 2.5.18), while Tacitus (Annals 12.29) and Martial (7.80.1) speak of the Pax Romana, the “Roman Peace”.9

The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was a period of relative peace and stability across the Roman Empire which lasted for over 200 years, beginning with the reign of Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). The aim of Augustus and his successors was to guarantee law, order, and security within the empire even if this meant separating it from the rest of the world and defending, or even expanding, its borders through military intervention and conquest.10

The city of Thessalonica, as part of the larger Macedonia, actively sought the favor of Rome.11 This afforded the city relative freedom, including a bit of self-government, compared to mainland Greece.12 The peace and security (pax et securitas) provided by Augustus’ reign was greatly appreciated.13 From their god-like worship of the Emperor arose the Imperial Cult—emperor worship.14 Undoubtedly, Paul saw the temple for and the statue of Augustus during his trip to the city.15

Understanding this background, the Apostle apparently used “peace and security” to reference this Pax Romana. The Thessalonian congregation would surely understand Paul’s meaning. As former pagans (1Th 1:9), the “brothers (and sisters)” almost assuredly had formerly engaged in the Imperial Cult—in effect, worshiping the Empire through the Emperor. This is in addition to the former worship of other pagan ‘deities’.16 But now the Thessalonian ekklēsia worshiped the One True God, which put them at odds with “the rest”.17

In their conquest for “peace”, the Roman army had a reputation for insatiable ruthlessness. Calgacus, a Caledonian (Briton) chieftain, described the devastation behind Roman conquest in a pre-battle speech:

. . . and the more menacing Romans, from whose oppression one vainly seeks to escape through compliance and submission. Bandits of the globe, after laying the land bare by their universal plundering, they ransack the sea. If foreigners have riches, they are greedy; if poor, dominating. Neither east nor west has been able to satisfy. Unique among all, the wealthy and the impoverished they equally desire to rob, massacre, and plunder in the supposed name of the Empire. And where they create desolation, they call it “peace”.18

What Now?

As regards futuristic prophecy, what conclusions may be drawn from this background information? Without speculating too much here, a specific current event commands our attention. Apparently, on November 9, 2021, the statue pictured below was unveiled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

UNPeaceSculptureMex-002

On this website is the following caption, which was also placed on a UN tweet:

A guardian for international peace and security sits on the Visitors Plaza outside UN Headquarters. The guardian is a fusion of jaguar and eagle and donated by the Government of Oaxaca, Mexico. Artists Jacobo and Maria Angeles created it. November 09, 2021. The United States of America. New York. UN Photo/Manuel Elías.

The jaguar has been an enduring symbol in Mexican lore. And, of course, the eagle is an American symbol, representing freedom. So, this statue appears to be a composite of Mexican and American symbolism. But why was it given to the UN as a “guardian for international peace and security”?

Others have been quick to point out its similarity to the beast depicted in Revelation 13:2:

The beast which I saw was similar to a leopard, yet its feet were like a bear, and its mouth like a lion

But this description does not include anything about an eagle. Of course, Daniel 7:4 speaks of a beast like a lion with eagle’s wings. But the statue above is part jaguar, not leopard or lion. However, note this from Louw and Nida’s excellent Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.), referring to the Greek word for “leopard” (bold added):

πάρδαλις [pardalis] . . . ‘a beast whose appearance was like a leopard’ Rev 13:2. As in the case of the term for ‘bear’ (ἄρκος [arkos]), this reference to a leopard occurs in the NT only in Rev 13:2 and is likewise used as a means of describing the apocalyptic beast. A term referring to a local type of leopard or jaguar would be perfectly appropriate, and in some languages a term referring to a mountain lion has been employed. In other instances the equivalent expression is based upon a phrase meaning ‘fierce, large, a cat-like animal.’ A borrowed term may also be employed with a descriptive classifier, for example, ‘an animal called leopard.’19

Now, do note that the feet of the above pictured statue are not quite cat-like. But do they resemble bear’s feet (Rev 13:2)?

Whatever is to be made from all this, the statue as a “guardian for international peace and security” is quite curious.

_______________________________________

1 In my opinion, the chapter break between chapters 4 and 5 in modern Bibles should have never been made. I infer that this is the view of some commentary writers, for not a few treat 4:13–5:11 as a unit. This chapter break is unfortunate, as this can lead some—and certainly has led some—to dubious exegesis. Some mistakenly separate Jesus’ Parousia in 4:13–18 from “the Day of the Lord” in 5:1–11, as if these are completely separate events.

2 The parenthetical “and sisters” and “and daughters” is to capture the inclusive intent of Paul’s masculine words here (in a strongly patriarchal culture). The italics indicate emphasis in the form of pronouns in the Greek text alongside the implied pronouns of their accompanying finite verbs (finite verbs encode person and number, and thus a separate pronoun is unnecessary, usually implying emphasis). The bold “not” in v. 3 indicates the emphasis of the Greek double negative. The first two of the three bracketed Greek (transliterated and in green) words in v. 3 are unique in Paul’s writings; and, when considered alongside the third bracketed word, may well indicate the Apostle has purposed these from Luke 21:34–36, in order  to evoke these words of Jesus (see below for further explanation). Cf. Charles A. Wannamaker, Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), p 180; Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), pp 232, 266 nt 160. Assuming so, this would seem to indicate a strong oral tradition preceding the scribal tradition of Luke’s Gospel. Cf. John H. Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

3 The exclamation is my interpretation. It may well be simply, “Peace and security” (or “Peace and safety”).

4 In the very first verse of this epistle (1:1) Paul specifically refers to the ekklēsia̢ Thessalonike̒ōn, the assembly of Thessalonians. I am opposed to the use of “church” because of the baggage it has accumulated over the years; see Re-Assembly Required.

5 See, e.g., Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974): “In 4:13, ‘the rest’ are non-Christians, those who have no hope. Here, they are described in terms of quality of life that is in contrast to the sober vigilance of those who do have hope in salvation” (p 295). See A Closer Look section of Escorting the King of Kings? for the other linguistic links.

6 This phrase “the times and the seasons”, opines Gordon D. Fee, “is almost certainly to be taken as a hendiadys, where, as this Greek term itself implies, the two words function to express a single idea” (The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009] p. 186; cf. 185–86). In the New Testament, this specific verbiage is found only here, though Acts 1:7 has it without the Greek articles (“times and seasons”); in the LXX, it is found in the singular and without the articles in Daniel 7:12 (“time and season”), while  Daniel 2:21 and Wisdom of Solomon 8:8 reverse the order (“season and time”).

7 See, e.g., Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, pp 232, 266 nt 160.

8 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), pp 146–148.

9 Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, p 266  nt 163.

10 Donald L. Wasson, “Pax Romana“, World History Encyclopedia, last modified December 08, 2015, https://www.worldhistory.org/Pax_Romana/, para 1; as accessed 10/24/2021. The inclusive dates in the parenthesis changed from the secularized “BCE” and “CE” in the original source to the Christianized “BC” and “AD” here.

11 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 1–7.

12 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 4–5.

13 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p 5; cf. Wasson, “Pax Romana”, para 4.

14 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 5–6; cf. Wasson, Pax Romana”, para 9.

15 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p 5.

16 According to Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, “What is sometimes overlooked is the emperor cult was syncretized with the local worship of the Cabiri, the mystic deities of Samothrace (a cult patronized by Philip and Alexander), and so here the emperor was deified as Kabeiros [‘the ancestral and most holy of all gods’], as coins show” (p 5).

17 See Larry W. Hurtado’s popular-level (non-academic) work Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016).

18 Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola [De Vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Julius Agricola)] 30.4–6. Translated from the Latin, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, beginning here, with help from English translations here and here. Agricola was Tacitus’ father-in-law.

19 “πάρδαλις”, Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4, p 39.

Coming Soon Near You!

Behold! I am coming soon.1

With the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth, we might consider pondering His return, His Parousia. His arrival in Bethlehem marked the down payment for His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension—all for our benefit—and the promise of His return. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:30–31; cf. Luke 21:27):

24:30 …And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and all the tribes/people of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels/messengers with a great trumpet, and He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

This will be in fulfillment of words by the Prophet Daniel (7:13): In the night vision I continued watching—Behold! Upon the clouds of the sky: one like a son of man coming! The phrase “son of man” is from the Hebrew idiom “son of Adam”, which means simply human.2 Daniel was describing a human-like figure, which can only be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Daniel may have seen Jesus garbed in the same manner in which John the Revelator saw one like a son of man (1:13–16):

1:13 …and in the midst of the candlesticks, like a son of man, in a foot-length robe and girded with a golden wrap around his chest, 14 his head and hair white like wool—white as snow—and his eyes like flames of fire, 15 his feet similar to fine bronze polished in a furnace, and his voice as vibrant as voluminous waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp double-edged sword proceeds. His face shines like the sun in its full force.

John was apparently terrified in seeing such a figure, but then the Person identified Himself (1:17–18): Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last and the Living One. I was dead, yet behold! I am alive forever and ever!

22:12 Behold! I am coming soon. And with Me is My rewards, to repay each one according to his own work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have their right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.3

Be blessed!

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1 Revelation 22:7/22:12.
2 See The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 2 and the rest of the series.
3 Revelation 22:12–14.

Escorting the King of Kings?

In the previous article (Rapture Ready?) on the pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR) we looked at, among other things, the primary passage used to support the doctrine, namely 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17. Parallel and similarly-themed passages to these Thessalonian verses—ones mentioning a “trumpet” in the context of the gathering of believers (both dead and alive)—were shown not to support the PTR. In fact, these parallel passages suggest a completely different understanding, which in turn suggests a non-PTR interpretation in the Thessalonian passage.

In this post we will more closely analyze this same passage. Understanding Paul’s primary and secondary purposes in preparing this passage will further support our non-PTR position. At the same time, this may provoke other intriguing lines of inquiry.

Additional Revelation

Before proceeding further, however, I shall provide two additional passages relating to Jesus’ Parousia. These were left off the preceding article due to length. They are presented here as further evidence for the previous article’s stance as well as background for the current one. Both are from Revelation. The first is the seventh of seven trumpets (cf. Rev 10:7), which is the last trumpet of all:

11:15 Then the seventh angel trumpeted, and [then] there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 16 Then the twenty-four elders, who sit upon their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God 17 saying: We give you thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and reign. 18 The nations/people were enraged, but then came your wrath and the time for the dead to be judged—and to reward your bond-servants: the prophets, the saints, and those who fear your name, the small and the great—and to destroy those who destroy the earth.

The above passage has its own focal points, yet this last of seven trumpets is certainly the same as the “last trumpet” of 1Corinthians 15:52—and, as pointed out in the previous article, the Corinthian passage is a parallel to 1Thess 4:15–17. Though the Parousia and the gathering of the saints are not explicitly mentioned, both are implied, given the other similarly-themed passages which do mention them. That is, the Parousia and gathering are assumed to be nearly coincident with the trumpet sound yet prior to he shall reign forever and ever (compare And so we shall be forever with the Lord in 1Thess 4:17). Judgment, in both its negative (“wrath”) and positive (“reward”) aspects, is one of the foci (cf. Matt 25:31–46, the sheep and goats). And judgment is the sole focus of the remaining Revelation passage we will explore:

14:14 Then I saw—behold!—a white cloud. And sitting upon this cloud was one like a son of man—upon his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle. 15 And then another angel/messenger came out of the temple crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting upon the cloud: Apply your sickle and reap! For the hour has come to reap, because ripe is the earth’s harvest. 16 And the one sitting upon the clouds thrust his sickle upon the earth and the earth was harvested.

The imagery of one like a son of man seated upon this cloud evokes both Daniel 7:13 (cf. Rev 1:7, 13–14) and Matt 24:30. One might initially mistake this passage as indicating negative judgment (cf. Joel 3:13)—perhaps especially considering the “sharp sickle” symbol—but that would misinterpret the ‘reaping of the harvest’ metaphor here and in its broader context. See Matt 3:11–12/Luke 3:16–17 and the parable of the weeds (Matt 13:24–30) for comparison. To keep in proper context, this Revelation passage (14:14–16) should be contrasted with the wrath of God expressly stated in the verses immediately following it (14:17–20;1 cf. 1Thess 5:3). Thus, Revelation 14:14–16 is the harvesting of believers—though no distinction is made between those still alive and the dead in Christ.

As Paul states in 1Thess 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved from wrath, but not necessarily from tribulation (just ask the Thessalonians). We may suffer at the hands of our enemies (or not), but we will not suffer God’s wrath. Believers are whisked away just prior to God’s wrath pouring out upon the earth on the Day of the Lord.

A Closer Look

Now we will scrutinize the Thessalonians passage, adding verse 18 (1Thess 4:13–18):

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. 18 So, encourage one another with these words.

Paul opens with a plea for the Thessalonians not to grieve about the dead in Christ (13–14) and closes with an exhortation to encourage each other (18). There seems to have been some mistaken notion about the ‘fate’ of the dead in Christ (13–14). The Thessalonian ekklēsia was primarily, if not exclusively, from a pagan background.2 Accordingly, they believed the dead had no positive future. Thus, Paul wanted to remind (or apprise) them of our future resurrection hope (14–17)—and the disposition of those surviving until Jesus’ Parousia. This future meeting of all believers dead and alive with Christ at the Parousia would provide the reason they could “encourage one another” (18) in the (then) present time.

So, Paul’s primary objective in this passage was to correct their misunderstanding—whatever this was exactly—regarding the dead in Christ (“those who have fallen asleep through Jesus”). And, toward this end, Paul quite likely went beyond what most English readers would perceive. That is, in his use of the verb harpazō (“caught up”) he may well have consciously repurposed this term (17) from pagan ideology, as Malherbe asserts:

Of special interest is the consolation tradition, which casts light on Paul’s use [of harpazō] and shows once more how he turns conventional expressions to a pastoral use. Epitaphs lament Fate’s snatching (harpazein) away the dead from their loved ones to Hades . . . Letters of condolence then use harpazein and its cognates in addressing or speaking of the grief stricken . . .

 . . . [Paul’s] purpose is to console . . . The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them. In a neat twist, Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort. He does not say who snatches them up, but v 14 would seem to indicate that it is God who gathers them together by snatching them up.3

In other words, Paul took a term (harpazō) with a negative connotation and inverted it. Instead of “Fate” ‘snatching’ all the dead to Hades forever, God will ‘snatch’ the dead in Christ together with those believers still alive at Jesus’ Parousia. We will all then meet Him “in the air”. The Apostle linguistically ties this idea together in his use of “along with Him [Jesus]” (syn autō̹) in verse 14 and “together along with them” (hama syn autois) in 17. In verse 14 God will bring/lead the dead in Christ along with Jesus, i.e., once the dead arise as Jesus had done God will snatch them (together with those yet alive) to meet Jesus in the air (17).4 As Paul states in his first Corinthian epistle, For the [last] trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).

In service of his primary objective, Paul necessarily had to explain some end time events. However, importantly, this was subsidiary. Similarly, in the immediately following section (5:1–11), Paul’s primary purpose is again pastoral, with a brief explanation of eschatology toward that goal. As Green helpfully explains in his overview of 1Thessalonians 5:1–11,

The purpose of the whole discussion of this theme is pastoral and not speculative (v. 11; cf. 4:13, 18). Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective in order to hypothesize about the end or to foster escapism. The teaching about final events is meant to inform and encourage them in their daily life and conduct. Clear thinking about the end is designed to help them live as true Christians in the present.5

The Day of the Lord comes as “a thief in the night” (5:2) solely with respect to unbelievers (5:3). But believers will not be caught by surprise (5:4; cf. Luke 21:29–31). Importantly, note that Paul linguistically ties this section together with the previous section (1Thess 4:13–18): “Jesus died for us, so whether awake [alive] or sleeping [dead] we will live together along with Him (hama syn autō̹)” (5:10). Following this affirmation, Paul provides his concluding exhortation (5:11).

Where Do We Go From There?

An unanswered question in the Thessalonians passage—and not explicitly answered elsewhere in Scripture—is this: Where do we go after meeting Jesus “in the air”? Clearly, at the Parousia Jesus will descend from heaven (16), while believers will be caught up with Him “in the clouds” (17). One comes down, the others up. But once we meet “in the air”, where do we believers go? Do believers and Jesus go together, or do believers continue on to one destination, while Jesus proceeds to another?

In the PTR view, Jesus reverses course and believers continue on, escorting Him to heaven.6 But the analyses in this and the preceding article related to it have shown the PTR view to be insupportable when placed in the broader context of Scripture as a whole. Taking the similarly-themed passages as a group, the most logical movement for Jesus is to continue earthward, or, alternatively, to remain in the clouds to pour out His wrath upon the earth from there. Where, then, would believers go (or remain)? Scripture elsewhere records judgment/rewards at the end of the age (e.g., Daniel 12:1–3; John 5:28–29).

The remainder of this article will be necessarily speculative in probing for answers to this question of movement and/or destination. To be clear at the outset, I do not wish to make any firm conclusions from any of the data presented below. I am merely providing the following as intriguing [to me anyway] food for thought. That said, let’s dive into the data!

In 1Thess 4:16 the first command could be understood as a battle cry (see various English versions: “shout of command”, “cry of command”, etc.). And the “trumpet of God” could be similarly understood. Adding the “voice of the archangel”, Witherington observes, “The images are martial, as if Jesus were summoning His army.”7 These images accord well with the battle imagery of the Rider on the White Horse (Rev 19:11–16). Note that His army here includes those “wearing fine linen, pure white” (19:14; cf. 19:7–8; 7:9, 13–14). And Paul states something intriguing in 1Cor 6:2–3, almost in passing: “Do you not know that the saints/holy ones (hoi agioi) will judge the world? . . . Do you not know we will judge angels?” When are we to judge the world and the angels? Whatever the timing, this idea must be harmonized with God’s clear words, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

In another article on CrossWise it was noted that the term Parousia had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.8

Considering their pagan background, surely the Thessalonians understood Paul’s intention behind his use of Parousia. Such a regal backdrop can add substance to the battle imagery noted earlier. But there is even more to consider here.

The words translated “to meet” in 1Thess 4:17 are from the Greek eis apantēsin. This is an accusative (direct object) phrase, and the infinitive “to meet” in translation is somewhat of a compromise. The Greek is actually a preposition (eis, “into”, “in”, “for”) and noun (apantēsin, “meeting”). We might think of it more along the lines of eis martyrian in John 1:7: “This man came for testimony, to witness about the Light.” As such it would be more like: “for a meeting with the Lord in the air”.9

With that background, we can proceed further. Two different Christian sources claim this noun apantēsis (in its accusative form apantēsin) carried particular significance in Hellenistic culture:

According to 1 Th. 4:17 . . . there will be a rapture eis apantēsin tou kyriou eis aera [“to meet the Lord in the air”]. The word apantēsis (also hupantēsis . . .) is to be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. Similarly, when Christians leave the gates of the world, they will welcome Christ in the aēr [“air”], acclaiming Him as kyrios [“Lord”].10

The word seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary—a usage which accords excellently with its New Testament usage.11

Before exploring the New Testament (NT) examples, a selection from historian Polybius (Histories, V 26:8–9) will illustrate its usage in Hellenistic culture near-contemporaneous with Scripture. Note that Polybius also uses a verb form (apantaō) of this noun to restate the initial meeting, and he uses a separate verb (gignomai, “came”) to record the escort back to Corinth:

So, with Apelles nearing Corinth, Leontius, Ptolemy and Megaleas—commanders of the foot soldiers and the other army divisions—with great urgency, spurred the young men to go for the meeting [eis tēn apantēsin] with him [Apelles]. Consequently, Apelles came [to Corinth] with great fanfare, due to the multitude of soldiers and officers who had come to meet [apantēsantōn] him, and marched directly to the royal court.12

Note that the welcoming party would first go out with the purpose of meeting the dignitary en route, and then turn back toward their own locale to accompany him for the remainder of his journey.

Backing up for a moment, it might prove beneficial to further define both apantēsis and hupantēsis. Each is a compound of a preposition + noun. The first is from the verb apantaō: apo (“from”) + antaō (from anti, meaning “against”, “opposite”, “instead of”). Danker defines the term ‘come opposite to’, hence ‘meet face to face’.13 The second is from the verb hupantaō: hupo (“under”, “below”) + antaō, defined as draw up close for encounter.14 The two are synonyms but may well have different nuances, depending on context.

The first NT passage we will explore is, appropriately, in the long discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–25:46), which contains Jesus’ teaching on the end times. The passage in question is known as The Parable of the Ten Virgins:

25:1 “At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins taking their lamps to meet [eis hupantēsin] the Bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were foolish, yet five wise. 3 For the foolish taking their lamps had not taken any oil with them, 4 but the wise had taken flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Because of the Bridegroom’s long delay, they all became tired and fell asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night came a shout, ‘Look, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet [eis apantēsin] Him!’ 7 So all those virgins arose, and they trimmed their lamps. 8 Then the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are burning low.’ 9 But the wise replied, saying, ‘No, there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to the sellers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 But as they were leaving to buy, the Bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready entered the wedding with Him. Then the door closed. 11 Later the remaining virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us!’ 12 Replying, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you: I do not know you.’ 13 So, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The substance of this parable does not quite fit the pattern of going out to meet the dignitary, and then accompanying him back to the originating locale. However, it does match a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. And the five wise did accompany Him to the wedding. Moreover, the content is thematically related to both 1Thess 4:13–18 and 1Thess 5:1–11. So it is useful for analysis.

As with any parable, it can be perilous to attempt to make concrete parallels to the figurative language. But it would be safe here to understand the oil as indicating degree of readiness. In this sense, the oil could signify the amount of Holy Spirit infilling (Eph 5:15–21). If so, this idea of purchasing oil could be understood as akin to Simon Magus, aka Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24)—except maybe for the fact that the five wise suggested the idea to the foolish. Whatever the case, it is clear that Jesus (the Bridegroom) ‘does not know’ the foolish (cf. Matt 7:21–23). All ten desired to meet Jesus, but half were not ready, thereby missing the wedding (Rev 19:6–9; cf. 19:17–18).

The next NT selection for consideration is in Acts 28, which follows the pattern of the Polybius’ passage. While on his journey to Rome, Paul is welcomed by some brothers from Rome, and the brothers accompany him for the rest of his trip:15

28:15 After hearing the things concerning us, the brothers from there [Rome] came up to Appias’ Forum and Three Taverns to greet (eis apantēsin) us. Upon seeing them, Paul, thanking God, was encouraged. 16 So when we entered [eiserchomai] into Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

The next passage, like the first, is from Matthew’s Gospel. But it is very different in that it is regarding Jesus’ encounter with the two demon-possessed men from the land of the Gadarenes, whom he exorcises by sending the demons into nearby swine:

8:28 Upon His arrival to the other side, to the land of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs—exceedingly violent, such that no one is able to pass through that way—confronted [hupantaō] Him. 29 Excitedly they cried out, “What is it between us and you, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Off in the distance from them was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” So, after they came out, they went into the swine. Immediately, the entire herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and died in the waters! 33 Those who were tending the pigs fled; and then, going into town, they reported all, especially concerning the two demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town left to confront [eis hupantēsin] Jesus. Upon seeing Him, they urged that he should turn away [metabainō] from their borders.

Given the context, I decided to translate to the stronger “confronted”/“to confront” instead of simply “meeting”. The recurrence of the two words (verb in 28, noun in 34) may have been intended as a linguistic framing device to tie the story together. The final verse (34) is the primary one to analyze here, for it begins with the accusative eis hupantēsin and ends with the verb “turn away” (metabainō). I perceive the townspeople’s message here as one of ‘go away and don’t come back!’ Accordingly, I interpret this passage: After Jesus drove the demons out of the two men and into the herd of pigs, the townspeople drove Jesus from their town to any other!

In any case, verse 34 at least partly follows the pattern— it does not specify whether or not they escorted Jesus back to the shoreline—though in a negative way. That is, Jesus is not considered a dignitary by the townspeople. However, this could be a case of irony. That is, though the townspeople saw Jesus as villainous, the fact that they intercepted Him and essentially drove Him out of town, follows this pattern as if He were the dignitary He really is!

Tangentially, though still relatedly, observe the demons’ question to Jesus regarding “the appointed time”. Is this the time believers will “judge angels”?

The final passage to consider is The Triumphal Entry in John’s Gospel (John 12:12–15):

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast, after hearing Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took palm branches and came to welcome [eis hupantēsin] Him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD: the King of Israel!” 14 Then Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat upon it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion. Behold! Your King is coming, sitting upon a donkey’s colt!”

 . . . 17 Now the crowd—those who were with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead—continued bearing testimony. 18 Because of this also, the crowd greeted [hupantaō] Him—for they heard He had performed that miracle.

Though not explicit, it is strongly implied that those who went out with palm branches to welcome Jesus also escorted Him into Jerusalem. This, then, fits the Polybius pattern.

Verses 17–18 may not be directly related to The Triumphal Entry, but they do exhibit a similar pattern to the Polybius passage. The difference is that a verbal form is used instead of the accusative phrase.

What Can Be Concluded?

Having provided the applicable Hellenistic background and all the NT examples corresponding to or approximating this background, what, if anything, can we make of the data? Can any of this be used in attempting to determine where believers go immediately after our meeting in the air with Jesus?

What do you think?

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1 Note that these clusters of grapes are from the vine of the earth, that is, they get their sustenance from the earth as opposed to from the Lord (cf. John 15:1–17).

2 See 1Thess 1:9 how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

3 Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 276. Emphasis added.

4 “Those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” will rise from the dead first, then both the newly-arisen/formerly-‘sleeping’ in Christ and believers yet still alive will be ‘snatched’ up together. This sequence is the most faithful to the text. It is probably only a nanosecond after the dead arise that both these newly-arisen and the remaining believers are ‘snatched’ up together by God to meet Jesus in the air. In this way, all believers will be ‘snatched’ up together simultaneously in order to have one single meeting “in the clouds” with Jesus. This concurs with Paul’s statement that those remaining (those alive) when Jesus comes “will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep”—the living will not precede the dead in Christ, but the dead in Christ will not precede those yet alive either, with respect to the meeting in the clouds. Put simply, we are all ‘snatched’ together (hama) “to meet the Lord in the air”.  Accordingly, the ‘Rapture’ is a ‘snatching’ of both the newly-raised-formerly-‘sleeping’and those still alive in Christ at His Parousia. This, then, conforms to the one gathering of believers in Matthew 24:31 and the one harvesting of believers in Rev 14:14–16. This also concurs with 1Cor 15:51–52: Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed—in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [those yet living] will be changed. Paul then refers to the living as “the mortal”, which will be changed to “immortality” (15:53). In other words, Paul makes a distinction between the two groups and always places the dead before the living in the texts. Thus, all these passages easily harmonize by judiciously employing Occam’s razor.

5 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p 230. Emphasis added.

6 Very likely due to a committed PTR stance, Robert L. Thomas (“1 Thessalonians”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians – Philemon, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006]) states: Since God the Father is in heaven, the verb ά̓ξεί (axei, “will bring” . . .) indicates that the destination of the movement of Jesus and those with him in this verse is upward, not downward. At this moment of Jesus’ return in the air, the company named will not move back to the earth but toward the Father’s presence in heaven . . . (p 418). But this does not necessarily follow.

7 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), p 138.

8 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

9 I retained “to meet” in my translation above because no other English version translated it “for a meeting” and I did not wish to cause any initial confusion. It was decided to leave the explanation of “for a meeting” for later—here—when explaining this speculative portion.

10 Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησις”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), G. Kittel & G. Friedrich, eds.; transl. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76), p 1:380; Greek transliterated, bold added.

11 J.H. Moulton & G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p 53.

12 Polybius, Histories, V.26.8–9 [Book 5, Chapter 26, section 8–9] (my transl.); Greek text [transliterated above] Theodorus Büttner-Wobst after L. Dindorf, 1893, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, specifically  here.

13 Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 40. Danker is the “D” in BDAG and the older BAGD.

14 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 361.

15 Without a firm grasp of ancient geography—and Luke’s rather confusing narration in this part—it is difficult to follow Paul’s journey and that of the brothers who wish to welcome him; so, I’ll rely on the almost always reliable F. F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982]): Cf. . . . Acts 28:15, where the Christians from Rome walk south along the Appian Way to meet Paul and his company (eis apantēsin hēmin) and escort them on the remainder of their journey to Rome (pp 102–103).

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

What did Jesus look like? We have no portrait of his likeness. We have no bust showing his facial features.1

What we know is that Jesus was born in a manger—that it was as a baby he came into our world. Though we don’t know much about his childhood, we can read about him as a twelve-year-old in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), providing amazement to the teachers there (Luke 2:47). But, again, we don’t know what he looked like: his facial features, build, etc.

Yet we can state with some confidence what Jesus didn’t look like. Almost certainly, he resembled nothing like some images of Him, portrayed as a fair-skinned, fair-featured European. On the contrary, Jesus had Middle Eastern Jewish ancestry. Accordingly, he was likely olive-skinned with dark or brown hair, in keeping with others hailing from the Judean area. But as regards any specific physical characteristics, the New Testament (NT) is silent.

We might be able to infer that Jesus was an average looking man by analyzing some NT scenes. For example, Judas Iscariot pointed Jesus out to the soldiers marshalled to arrest him (Matt 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-49).2 This might suggest Jesus had no special physical qualities to make him stand out amongst the others. But, then again, it was dark, and the light from the torches may have distorted the faces of Jesus and the disciples such that an insider like Judas could more easily identify him. Or, it could be that at least some in the group were in the dark as to what Jesus looked like in the first place.

This Jesus a King?

Perhaps more compelling, Pilate showed apparent surprise upon meeting Jesus. Was he expecting someone more kingly, more ‘regal’ looking? All four Gospels are unanimous in how they record Pilate’s question, which can be phrased either “You are the king of the Jews?” or “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). By the phraseology (syntax) of the Greek, emphasis seems to be on “you” here.3 But there is no specific wording in the context with which to find a substantive answer as to what exactly provoked Pilate’s response.

However, viewing the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 may provide a glimpse. Of Isaiah 53:2 J. Alec Motyer observes and opines:

[H]e looked unimpressive (no beauty . . . to attract). To such an extent was he but a man among men that the ordinary tests of beauty (‘looks’), majesty (‘unimpressiveness’) and appearance could be applied—with negative results.4

From this we might conclude that the earthly Jesus was an average looking man. No striking features. But it is possible the physical description here strictly relates to Jesus’ battered body hanging on the cross.5 Yet, even if Isaiah 53 is specifically about the Atonement, the description in verse 2 cannot be ruled out as simultaneously providing a description of the earthly Jesus in a general sense.  Whichever the case, this passage, on its face, cannot be used to definitively determine Jesus’ physical features.

Motyer’s statement above may prompt another possible avenue for inquiry. If we consider the example of Saul’s selection as king, we may find a more solid basis upon which to accept Isaiah 53:2 as providing a description of the earthly Jesus. This, in turn, may provide some substantiation for understanding Pilate’s surprise as pertaining to Jesus’ physical characteristics.

To be more specific, recall that one of the apparent reasons Saul was selected king was because he was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:2; 10:1,23-24). In other words, the Jews seemed to have selected Saul, at least partly, because he ‘looked like’ a king, in their eyes. In comparison, using the same criteria, the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah did not ‘look like’ a king. Thus, if Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus, Pilate may have been bewildered upon seeing him, for he may have been expecting someone more ‘regal’ in appearance.

A basis for such thought finds itself in the pseudo-science of physiognomy, as detailed in the work of Mikeal C. Parsons.6 This term reflects the idea in the idiom ‘judging a book by its cover’. To some even the converse is true: judging a cover by its book. In this latter view, by knowing a person’s character, one can determine corresponding physical characteristics even before first sight.

Returning again to Motyer’s statement, observe his final words, “with negative results.”  It appears the author here understands some sort of physiognomic connection.

Parsons notes the presence—and the possible presence7—of the practice of physiognomy in the Old Testament (OT), using the selection of King Saul as but one example. 8 Extra-biblical Jewish texts from this time period evidence this same outward/inward connection.9 All this could point to the reasoning behind the lack of physical descriptions of Jesus in the NT—if indeed he was an average man in terms of earthly physical characteristics, such as the description in Isaiah 53:2.

In other words, the Gospel writers’ silence on this issue may be quite purposeful. Knowing the contemporary tendency towards judging outward characteristics as the bases for determining inner qualities, the writers may have been dissuaded from describing Jesus’ physical form in any way. They may have been concerned that readers might make a caricature of him.

A stronger connection of this practice of physiognomy rears its ugly head in contemporary Hellenistic (Greek) culture.10 It “permeated the Greco-Roman thought world.”11 This thought may have emanated from the prominent anthropological and philosophical notions centering on a separate soul and body:

[S]oul and body react on each other; when the character of the soul changes, it changes also the body, and conversely, when the form of the body changes, it changes the character of the soul.12

The Hellenistic version of physiognomy encompassed a wide range of criteria, differing a bit according to the eye of the beholder. These include color of hair, eyes and skin; shape and size of forehead, nose, ears, cheeks, hands, etc.; size of head; sizes of features relative to others; asymmetry/symmetry; size of physique generally; as well as gait and other movements.13

An example of a negative imagining of Jesus’ physical features based on this pseudo-science is found in Cook’s The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism.14 In this work Celsus described Jesus as “small and ugly and ignoble”.15 Celsus apparently arrives at his conclusions on Jesus’ physical features based on distorted understandings of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, which thereby informed Celsus’ view of Jesus’ morality.16 Since the crucifixion was reserved for criminals, Jesus’ death ‘confirmed’ his supposed “base origins and unworthy character”.17 In other words, a person of such ‘lowly’ character—according to Celsus’ misconstruals—surely was correspondingly “small and ugly”.18

Celsus sarcastically critiques Jesus in his mock-questioning of an imagined Jesus: Upon learning of the child king Jesus, Herod slaughtered innocent children (Matthew 2:3-16),

“lest you should reign instead of him after you were grown. Why then, when you were grown did you not reign? But you, ‘child of God’, ignobly beg in this manner [cf. Matt 10:9-11], poking about in fear and wandering up and down in ruin.”19

Celsus’ apparent awareness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus carrying neither food nor money20 likely contributed to his scathing judgment as “ignoble”.21 In accordance with such a view,

‘Evangelical poverty’ was unimpressive to Celsus. The title ‘king’ for such an impoverished individual is ridiculous to Celsus. Jesus never became a ‘king’ in the sense of the word that Celsus takes for granted.22

Considering all the above, isn’t it possible, perhaps even probable, the silence in the NT regarding Jesus’ earthly physical form is, in fact, by design? And could this account for why there are no direct NT quotations of the physical features portion of Isaiah 53:2?

Appropriating Jesus’ words in John 8:15, “You judge according to the flesh” (cf. 7:24).

Yes, Jesus is King!

Some use Psalm 45:2 to support the idea of a handsome Jesus. But this is probably best understood—if applicable to Jesus at all—as reflective of the post-earthly Jesus, his glorified form.23 And while the NT is silent regarding Jesus’ physical features during his earthly ministry, a few NT texts feature descriptions of a post-glorified Jesus.

We catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration scene (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). But John the Revelator describes Jesus in his post-earthly glory. In the first chapter of Revelation, John witnesses:

13 someone like a son of man, dressed in a foot-length robe and girded with a golden wrap around his chest, 14 his head and hair white like wool—white as snow—and his eyes like flames of fire, 15 his feet similar to fine bronze polished in a furnace, and his voice as vibrant as voluminous waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp double-edged sword proceeds. His face shines like the sun in its full force.

What a description!

With the words “like a son of man” (homoios huios anthrōpou), John evokes the human-like figure in Daniel 7:13 (hōs huios anthrōpou).24 To explain, “son of man” is a rendering of the Hebrew idiom ben Adam, which translates as son of Adam, and is understood to mean human.25 Thus, “son of man” also means human. Comparatively, the particularized the Son of Man, used by Jesus in self-reference throughout the Gospels, refers solely to him. Accordingly, without the attached to “son of man” in both Rev 1:13 and Daniel 7:13,26 this conveys that the figure coming on the clouds (Dan 7:13; Rev 1:7) is human-like in appearance—though, of course this figure is King Jesus at the Second Coming, the parousia. In other words, in Rev 1:13 John is not using the Son of Man, because this term represents Jesus in his earthly ministry. Therefore, the context here (and Dan 7:13) is best understood as referring to King Jesus in his suprahuman, glorified form—like a human.

John provides another magnificent description of King Jesus in Revelation 19:

11 Then I saw heaven standing open, and behold! A white horse! The one riding it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like flames of fire, and on his head are many diadems. A name has been written upon him, which no one knows except him. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and he has named himself THE WORD OF GOD. 14 The armies in heaven follow him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. 15 Out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which he may strike the nations/people. He will shepherd them with an iron staff. And he tramples the winepress of the furious wrath of Almighty God. 16 And upon this robe, where it rests on his thigh, a name is inscribed: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

To use a term that has been diluted in popular culture due to persistent misuse, but here meant in all its original splendor: AWESOME! The verbiage appears to be figurative to some degree, yet we can see points of contact with 2Thessalonians 2:8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of his coming/arrival (parousia).

The “breath of his mouth” seems to be a rephrasing of both Rev 1:16 and Rev 19:15 (cf. Isaiah 11:4). The “radiance of his coming” is similar to the final portion of 1:16, though it is implied in the whole context of 19:11-16.27

Come soon King Jesus!

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1 For possible reasons why, see the section titled Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity in Fishers of Persons article.
2 John’s Gospel portrays this scene a bit differently (John 18:3-5).
3 The Gospels are uniform here, to include word order: Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, Su ei ho basileus tōn Ioudaiōn, You are the king of the Jews? This would be the word-for-word rendering, and the one I prefer here. Since Greek finite verbs encode person and number, a pronoun is not necessary unless the subject is unclear in the context. In this case the referent is obvious: the 2nd person singular encoded in the present tense-form “are” (εἰ̑, ei) can only refer to Jesus. Thus, the presence of the Greek pronoun “you” (σὺ, su) here is unnecessary, for the question can just as easily stand without it: Εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (You are the king of the Jews?). The reading of the text per all four Gospels could even possibly be rendered: You? You are king of the Jews? (see Bernard and Evans just below). This would be in keeping with the context. For these reasons, I deem the use here emphatic.

Though not the consensus, this view of su as emphatic is far from rare. Cf. Charles L. Quarles, Matthew, EGGNT, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p 333: Σύ is emphatic and may imply a mocking tone . . .; Joel Marcus, Mark 8—16, The Yale Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2009), p 1033: . . . the sarcastic tone of Pilate’s initial question . . . [is] because the Jewish authorities have reported his royal pretensions and/or reputation…however, such pretensions seem outlandish, since . . . Jesus’ bound condition is the opposite of the unfettered power associated with kingship; Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [WBC] (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p 478: The emphatic pronoun carries with it a touch of mockery, perhaps suggesting Pilate had anticipated meeting someone more impressive (i.e., “You? You must be kidding!”); B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. version 2.8 (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), para 5147: The form of the sentence . . . suggests a feeling of surprise in the questioner: “Art thou, poor, and bound, and wearied, the King of whom men have spoken?”; J.H. Bernard, The Gospel According to St. John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. version 2.8 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), para 15345: “Thou! (σύ is emphatic) art Thou the King of the Jews?” Evidently Pilate did not believe that Jesus was a revolutionary leader . . . There was nothing in His appearance or His demeanor to make such a charge plausible.; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale UP, 1974), p 2.851: In the question Pilate asks, it is possible the ‘you’ is emphatic . . . expressing incredulity. Pilate . . . may have been amazed at the mien of Jesus who has been accused of claiming the title.; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), p 768: “Thou” is emphatic. “Art thou the King of the Jews?”; Murray J. Harris, John, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), p 305:If Pilate’s question is formal, σύ will be without emphasis…but if he is being sarcastic, σύ will have the sense, “Are you, of all people, the king of the Jews?”

Some commentators supporting no emphasis tend to see a direct parallel between Pilate’s question (Su ei . . . ) and Jesus’ response (Su legeis . . . ), therefore construing that if emphasis (“You!”) is understood with Pilate, then Jesus was similarly snarky in return, which is then deemed untenable; however, as Lidija Novakovic remarks (John 11—21: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT [Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2020]) regarding Jesus’ response: σὺ [su] is contrastive, distinguishing Pilate from others . . . (p 239).  (Novakovic is non-committal regarding su in John 18:33 [p 238], though.) In all those supporting emphasis there are slight variations as to the reasoning, but most agree Pilate’s surprise relates to fathoming Jesus as king. There is the possibility that Pilate was expecting—at least in part—an individual with more striking physical features, such as being taller in height, handsomer, etc., which then elicited his surprise. See below.
4 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p 377.
5 That is, the description here could provide a graphic description of the ‘slain Lamb’ of Revelation 5:6 (cf. John 1:29) instead of the earthly Jesus in his usual appearance. See, e.g., G. K. Beale & Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007): The Isa. 53 background especially highlights the atoning aspect of the lamb’s sacrificial death and also applies the metaphor’s “root” (cf. Rev. 5:5) and “lamb” to the sacrificial victim. In fact, “root” also occurs in Isa. 11:1, 10 (alluded to in Rev. 5:5), which may have inspired attraction to the same metaphor in 53:2 (p 1101). Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew” in Beale & Carson, who describes, the servant’s disfigured appearance (p 31).
6 Mikeal C. Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006 / Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011). The Baylor appears to be a straight reissue of the Baker. All references below will refer to the original Baker issue. (See my review of this work here.) Parsons’ main thesis is that Luke/Acts illustrates the reversal of physiognomic thought as “Luke presumes physiognomic principles only to overturn them by story’s end” (p 15).
7 Here Parsons references Lev 21 and its requirements for both sacrifice and priest (p 40), noting how some construe the lack of corresponding moral requirements to go with the physical in Lev 21:16-18 as implying “a connection between the outward and the inward” (p 41).
8 Parsons, pp 39-40. The author also uses King David (1 Sam 16:12) and Absalom (2 Sam 14:25) as examples (p 40).
9 Parsons, pp 42-45.
10 Parsons, pp 17-37.
11 Parsons, p 17.
12 Parsons, p 14. I note that this is not foreign to modern culture, as evidenced, e.g., in the band Talking Heads’ track “Seen and Not Seen” (from the 1980 Remain in Light), in which the narrator wishes to change his facial features by consciously adapting his thoughts, assuming others shared this same ability.
13 Parsons, 18-37.
14 John Granger Cook, The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
15 Cook, p 35.
16 I draw these inferences from the way Cook frames some of his statements (p 35, 48), but particularly his quote of Celsus—which follows in the main text above—as viewed through the lens of the pervasive influence of physiognomy.
17 Eugene V. Gallagher, Divine Man or Magician: Celsus and Origen on Jesus (Chico, CA: Publishers Press, 1982), p 122, as cited in Cook, p 48.
18 See the corresponding verbiage in the main text of note 15, and see note 16 and its corresponding text.
19 Cook, p 35. Though Cook does not place child of God in quotes, I understand Celsus’ use here as sarcasm, since it is obvious he deemed Jesus unworthy to be a son of god or a king; and, therefore, my quotes are to indicate this cynicism. See also the comments relating to Origen’s Against Celsus in Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli’s Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History: Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005): Celsus . . . criticized the idea of a descent (future for Jews, past for Christians) of a Son of God to earth, for this contradicts the very nature of God by attributing a change to him (p 291). Given such an a priori view (mistaken as it is), Celsus clearly does not grant ‘Son of God’ status to Jesus.
20 Cook, p 35.
21 This is my extrapolation of Cook (p 35) here given his earlier quote of Celsus’ “ . . . and ignoble” (see content referenced at note 15 above).
22 Cook, p 35.
23 Psalm 45:2 is variously translated in the English versions; however, the first part of the verse, which includes “handsome” in some versions, is not quoted or alluded to in the NT—as far as I’ve determined. The latter part of the verse (with “grace” or “gracious”) may be alluded to in Luke 4:22, though. Thus, I infer the possibility of this pertaining to Jesus only insofar as the citing/allusion to other verses in Psalm 45 (6-7) in the context of Hebrews 1:8-9 (See George H. Guthrie, “Hebrews” in Beale & Carson, pp 937, 939). And even if it does apply to Jesus, then it must be post-resurrection, as per the Hebrews context (1:3ff).
24 The words homoios and hōs are synonymous; in fact John uses the latter quite a bit in vv 13-16. John also uses homoios huios anthrōpou in Rev 14:14.
25 For more explanation on this, see ‘Son of Man’ in the LXX here.
26 In other words, these lack both Greek articles—one before huios (“son”) and one before anthrōpou (“man”), in comparison with the other occurrences in the NT where Jesus self-references as the Son of [the] Man during his earthly ministry. Relatedly, I have argued extensively that this same non-particularized huios anthrōpou in John 5:27 is meant to indicate “son of man”, aka “human” in that context in order to tie it to Daniel 7:13 and Rev 1:13; 14:14: see The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4 and pt 5.
27 And the latter part of 19:16 is parallel to 14:14, and 19:11-16 has other points of contact with 14:14-20.

Being Blessed

Who doesn’t want to be blessed, be happy? Obviously that’s rhetorical. I’m sure you would like a blessing bestowed upon you—to be blessed, to be happy. Let’s be blessed!

The Greek word for “blessed” or “happy” is μακάριος, makários. The second syllable receives the accent, so we pronounce it ma-kA-rē-os. It even sounds happy!

Scripture provides direction on how to be blessed. This is predicated upon belief, of course. Blessed are those who believe despite not being direct eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post-resurrection body (John 20:24-29).

The word is first found in the New Testament in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—the Beatitudes, beginning in Matthew 5:3. Jesus closes the section by pointing to our future heavenly reward (5:12):

5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . 11 Blessed are you when they insult you, persecute you, and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely because of Me. 12 Rejoice! Be overjoyed even, because great is your reward in heaven! For in this same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you.1

The way up is down.2 The last will be first.

The word also occurs in James 1:12:

1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for in becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.

The first part of this verse summarizes James 1:2-4. By trials we are purified, proven to be true.3 Our relationship with God has contingency: We must persevere. And we will receive trials. Especially the stubborn, like me. In 5:11 James uses the verbal form of this word (makarízō) in a context about the blessedness of Job due to his perseverance in suffering. His example provides hope for the rest of us:

5:11 See how blessed are those who persevere! You have heard of Job’s perseverance and you have seen his ending on account of the Lord—because the Lord is full of compassion and tender mercy.

But are we fit for the test? More pointedly, am I?

This theme of blessedness both opens and closes the book of Revelation. This last book in all Scripture might be better known as God’s revelation given to Jesus Christ, which was subsequently delivered to His servant John through an angel.4 God gave it to Jesus, who then gave it to an angel, who subsequently gave it to John. It is God’s revelation specifically intended for us!  Here are the first 3 verses:

1:1 [This is] the apocalypse/revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must come soon. He delivered it through His angel to His servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in all he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and keep the things written in it, for the time is near.5

So the book opens with a promised blessing to the one reading it. This extends to those heeding the revelation of God and Jesus. You haven’t yet ventured into a full reading of Revelation? Take heed: “the time is near.” Just before the final usage of “blessed”, and just after describing the wondrous Garden with its River of Life (see Looking Past the Future), Jesus reprises and synopsizes the introduction (22:7):

22:7 See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of this prophecy in this scroll.

The final use of “blessed” comes just a few verses from the very end. Jesus’ words here provide a nice summary of what is expected of our life here to gain the life hereafter—life in the Garden city containing the River of Life:

22:14 Blessed are those who wash their garments, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and may enter through the gates to the city.

To be blessed, we must read and keep God’s word. Be blessed!

_____________________

1 My translation, as is all here. I take the καί (kai) in v 12 as ascensive (“even”), given that the second imperatival verb is more intensive lexically than the first (chairō, “rejoice” > agalliaō, “be exceedingly joyful”). Moreover, “be overjoyed” is in the middle voice (agalliasthe), and in this context I interpret this combination as akin to being reflexive in some sense (“be yourselves overjoyed”). That is, the verb’s root meaning lends itself to intransitivity (both verbs do), depending on context, and in the context here it’s surely intransitive. When this intransitivity is coupled with the middle voice I view it as indicating reflexivity (self-inducing an emotional state?).  See Carl W. Conrad, “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb. November 19, 2002”, ([unpublished], accessed 12/31/2020), which seems to support my position here regarding this verb in its middle voice, “It appears the verb is intransitive in every instance [in the NT], though one may readily understand a middle sense: ‘feel joy’” (p 15). Conrad compiled helpful lists of functions for the middle (pp 9-10), of which category 10 “Emotion” (p 10) fits here (this list culled from Suzanne Kemmer), or the more specific “Class 3: Self-Involvement: B. Emotional States” (Neva Miller’s own designation) could work. Maybe it isn’t necessary to put too fine a point on all this, but the categories help to fully consider lexis and voice within the overall syntactical structure, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the text/context, I think. I certainly need to more fully consider Conrad’s work.

   Additionally, Conrad suggests—and I think his points are well-reasoned—that the active voice be understood as the “basic” (p 11) or default voice, and any other (he prefers “subject-focused” for what are variously called middles, passives, or middle/passives) be considered a marked usage comparatively (pp 7-9). Accepting this stance would appear to solidify my contention that καί should be understood as ascensive in this context.

2 I like the way Charles H. Talbert (Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5—7 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004]) summarizes the Beatitudes: “The Content of the Beatitudes is twofold: promises of eschatological blessings and a portrait of the recipients of these blessings. The first four Beatitudes deal with the vertical relationship; the final four plus one focus on horizontal relationships” (p 54). I really need to read this book cover-to-cover instead of merely skimming sections….

3 Or not!

4 The inscription preceding the first verse in the manuscript tradition simply reads Apocalypsis Iōannou, which translates as “Apocalypse of John” or “John’s Apocalypse”. But this merely identifies the author of the written work, as opposed to its actual genesis, which is spelled out in the first verse. In any event, our own tradition that simply truncates this wonderful work to the title Revelation does it a terrible disservice! The work provides its own self-inscription via the contents of what we label verses 1 and 2.

5 The word translated “read” in verse 3 is more accurately “reads aloud”. Understood in this way, one person would be reading the manuscript in front of an audience. The orator would certainly be blessed, and those hearing and obeying it would likewise be blessed.

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